Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 5, 1955

Praying For Sinners

Paul Williams, The Dalles, Oregon

Among those who believe in Jesus Christ, it is a universal practice to pray for the salvation of sinners. This is both scriptural and desirable. But there is a wide difference in the way in which these prayers are expected to be answered. Let us examine what the New Testament says on this subject to find how prayers for sinners are answered.

Jesus And Paul Prayed For Sinners

Jesus hung suspended upon the cross, his flesh pierced by nails and by the thorns upon his brow, a mocking crowd crying out insulting phrases; and he prayed to his father, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34.)

Paul, having suffered stoning, beatings, and imprisonment at the hands of the Jews, said, "Brethren, my heart's desire and my supplication to God is for them that they may be saved." (Rom. 10:1.)

Thus we have at least two New Testament examples of prayer for sinners. These should be imitated. Prayer is a potent force. To overlook its power in the conversion of sinners is to fight the battle for souls minus one of God's most effective weapons.

How These Prayers Were Answered

But are we to expect God instantaneously and miraculously to save those for whom we pray? Does the New Testament give any justification for the practice of seeking salvation solely through prayer? What about this so-called "altar salvation"? We can answer these questions by finding how the prayers of Jesus and of Paul were answered.

A. Jesus' Prayer

I think no one who knows very much about the New Testament believes that the multitude of murderous Jews who crucified Jesus was forgiven the instant he prayed his prayer to God. Neither were all of those for whom he prayed saved at any time. Many of them never turned from their sins in obedience to his will. Instead, they continued to persecute the church the same way they persecuted Christ.

How, then, was Jesus' prayer answered? Was it prayed in vain?

Not at all. As Jesus was dying upon the cross, he was making possible the answer to his own prayer. His death was the perfect sacrifice that God required that all men might have the forgiveness of their sins. "And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2.) He came to this earth to give to all mankind the opportunity for salvation and eternal life. This was accomplished by his fulfilling the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17-18), paying the price for our sins upon the cross, and giving us his new will through which we can obtain salvation. (Heb. 9:15-17.)

But what about those particular Jews for whom Jesus prayed? When were they saved? Some fifty-three days after Jesus uttered this prayer, we find its answer. Jesus had died and been raised from the dead. He had appeared to his apostles and told them to tarry in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit should come upon them. Then he had ascended into heaven, leaving his apostles to wait in faith for that promise. On this day, the day of Pentecost, the apostles were tarrying in Jerusalem as he had commanded. Suddenly there was a sound as of a rush of mighty wind, and tongues like as of fire sat on every one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. At once a crowd came together, attracted by the strange goings on. Some mocked, saying that the apostles were filled with new wine. Peter, using this charge as a beginning point, stood up and preached the gospel to those gathered together. As he preached, he piled evidence upon evidence to convince them that they had crucified, not simply a man, but the son of God. His sermon was so powerful and so convincing that when he had made his final point and climaxed the sermon by saying, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified," they cried out almost as one, saying, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

Peter then told them what they had to do in order to be saved. He said, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38.) He did not tell them that their sins had already been forgiven. Nor did he tell them to pray until they received a certain feeling. He told them to repent and be baptized.

This was when Jesus' prayer was answered; for that very day 3,000 souls received the word of Peter, were baptized, and were added to the church. (Acts 2:41.) Many of these 3,000, no doubt, had been in that mob watching his crucifixion when he prayed that they might be forgiven. Now they were being given the opportunity of forgiveness, and they took it.

B. Paul's Prayer

Paul's prayer for the Jews was answered in the same way. Paul knew that "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16.) When he prayed for the Jews, he was praying that they would hear, believe, and obey the gospel. This gospel was the same gospel that Peter preached on that day of Pentecost.

In Romans 6:17-18, Paul told the Roman Christians that they had become free from sin by becoming "obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered." In the first part of the chapter, he outlined the teaching to which they had been obedient. A close reading of the passage shows us that they were obedient to the same command of baptism that Peter preached, for Paul says, "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death," and "For he that hath died is justified from sin."

How Our Prayers Are Answered

Thus we see that Jesus and Paul both prayed for sinners, but that the answer to their prayers was conditioned upon the obedience of the sinners to the gospel. Today when we pray for sinners, we must realize that the answer to our prayers can come only through hearing, belief, repentance, and baptism on the part of the sinner. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers in any other way.

And friend, if you have not obeyed the gospel, we are praying for you. Will you not examine the New Testament and then obey Christ's commands? In no other way is there salvation.